From the 1930 children’s book, The Little Engine that Could, young readers absorb the value of perseverance and, of course, the phrase that just keeps chugging along through time: “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can.”
Perhaps not directly inspired by the book found on the shelf in its “Picture books” section, but the Greenwood Public Library too has nevertheless hauled itself through 75 years of community service, thanks in large part to a consistently devoted team of volunteers and a community that out-gives many others in B.C. when it comes to fundraising.
But while in early 1945, the Greenwood library received its first grant of $250 dollars from the province (approximately $3,800 today) and checked in its first couple hundred books on war tactics, gardening, and Ernest Hemmingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls, the library today extends beyond bookshelves.
“Libraries are totally different places now than they were even 10 years ago,” said board chair Anne Rayner-Gould.
“In a place like Greenwood, where there is nowhere else to go without spending money to meet your friends and use the computers and all of that kind of stuff, we felt the library was such a crucial thing that we needed to look at what we’re doing, protect what we’re doing, but expand as well.”
Despite a slim staff of two part-time employees and just over a dozen more volunteers, the library is doing just that.
Volunteer Diane Lapalme, along with some studious colleagues, spearheaded a STEAM for Teens program last summer, which encouraged teenaged participants to learn and explore with science, technology, engineering and math. Kids also have the chance to get excited with the library’s summer reading club, a novel study challenge put on in partnership with local schools, and reading circles for younger learners.
“The science shows that if you can get a child interested in books, understanding where books can take them in their minds and so forth at [a young] age,” said Rayner-Gould, “you’ll end up with much more fluent readers and people who read for enjoyment for the rest of their lives.”
Last year, volunteers, book lovers themselves, devoted over 500 working hours to shelving books, running programs and answering computer questions.
“”It’s a group of people who are getting together in a common cause who really enjoy the time they spend with one another, as well as just doing the work that we do,” Rayner-Gould said of her fellow volunteers.
Serving a population of approximately 950, the Greenwood Public Library draws funding from the province, the Regional District of Kootenay Boundary (RDKB), the City of Greenwood, and other grand sources as well. But, compared to all 71 other public libraries in the province, the smallest city’s local government contributions make up a tiny fraction of its budget. (It’s worth noting that the Greenwood library leases its space next door to the Legion for $1 per year from the city-owned MacArthur Centre.) Meanwhile, its community buy-in stands out amid the crowd.
More than thirteen per cent of the library’s budget comes from fundraising – the efforts of 1,000 hours of volunteer labour, spent organizing Christmas markets and seed sales and quilt raffles and other initiatives. In 2019, Rayner-Gould said that the library fundraised 16.3 per cent of its budget.
In fact, all three Boundary libraries stand out in their fundraising. While they may sit at the bottom of the stack in terms of local government funding, percentage-wise, provincial data from 2018 shows that all three are among the 15 top earners when it comes to raising money, based on the number of people they serve.
But while the grassroots buy in is encouraging for Rayner-Gould, it only takes the library so far towards where she and her board would like to see it go.
“There are all sorts of things that I just want to do,” she said. “The funding is the issue.”
The British Columbia Library Trustees Association (BCLTA) pushed last year for a “$20 Million in 2020” campaign to the province, asking the NDP government to up overall funding by $6 million. The increase, libraries said, was long overdue. The provincial government has not increased its funding to public libraries – $14 million per year – since 2009.
Even in the past year, the Greenwood library has seen significant jumps in its demand. Internet and computer use jumped by nearly 50 per cent in 2019, while overall circulation leaped from 5,784 items borrowed in 2018 to 6,924 borrowed in 2019.
Meanwhile, programs such as the knitting and crocheting group on Fridays remain popular and new fundraisers like the ongoing seed sale are bringing in new money (in part to replace the several hundred dollars that is projected to be lost after the board nixed late fees for withdrawals). But Rayner-Gould keeps anticipating the next chapter.
“We’re still trying to find those things that are going to be bringing the people in who wouldn’t normally come in,” the library president said, “so it’s a work in progress, for sure.”